Thursday, October 21, 2010

A Day at Marquette (part two)


Of course I'd hoped to get through more than I did, and the two other projects I'd thought of spending a little time on after I finished with my main task (a look at Taum's papers and some more time with Boorman's LotR script) will, like my hoped-for time at the Wade to work some more on THE DARK TOWER and the Major's diaries, have to wait for Another Time.

I did have one nice bit of serendipity, when Richard asked me if I'd seen the new Wm Gray book. I had not, but he pointed out that I was listed in its index. So after he'd had a look at it, he let me borrow it for a minute. In full its title is FANTASY, MYTH AND THE MEASURE OF TRUTH: TALES OF PULLMAN, LEWIS, TOLKIEN, MACDONALD, AND HOFFMAN (Palgrave Macmillan [2009]). So many books have been coming out about Tolkien these last few years that I've slacked off buying the ones focused on multiple authors which only have a chapter or so devoted to JRRT,*** but I see from the Gray that I'll have to mend my ways.

Of its entires relating to me, two were to MR. BAGGINS, which of course I was happy enough to see. But to my surprise and delight the rest were to my essay from the 2004 Blackwelder conference: "And All the Days of Her Life Are Forgotten: LotR as Mythic Prehistory". I had put a lot of effort into this piece and been pleased with how it turned out, feeling I was on to something, an aspect of Tolkien's work that hadn't gotten the attention it deserved. So I confess I'd been disappointed when my contribution met with the dismissive review by Brian Rosebury (himself the author of an excellent bk on Tolkien's style), in which he summed up what he thought was my thesis and then asked "Why should this matter . . . ?" (TS.IV.284-285). My 1981 Haggard piece, the 1985 Wms & Tolkien piece, and my 1992/1996 Tolkien & Lewis piece had all been quoted from or referred to a fair number of times, so I was a bit disappointed that this piece, aside from David Bratman's scrupulously neutral summary in The Year's Work (TS.VI.330), had apparently sunk without a trace.

Gray, by contrast, devotes most of a brief section of his book ("More Trouble with Human History"--specifically, pages 80-87) to a summary and critique of my argument. In the process he makes exactly the kind of point I wd make if I were revising the essay today: that CSL describes something v. like what I think Tolkien was doing on one level with the term "supposals" -- something I only noticed about two years ago when re-reading the CSL collection ON STORIES when researching another project. I'm only sorry I didn't have a chance to look at Gray's book in more detail; now I'll have to order a copy. Unfortunately, being from Palgrave Macmillan,**** it will not be cheap (indeed, checking just now I see it's fifty pounds).

So, a good visit. As always, too brief, but it did feel good to be back in the Archives again.

--John R.

***e.g. Dickerson's HOMER TO HARRY POTTER, which I only picked up the night of his Wade lecture. I've only had a chance to skim this so far, and can report that he v. much does not like Phillip Pullman.

****also the publisher of Dimitra Fimi's book, winner of this year's Mythopoeic Award.


David Bratman said...

Please to note also my general comment on the anthology your paper appeared in (TS.VI.315): "the quality of this book comes simply from the fact that, if you invite the best Tolkien scholars to your conference, you will get the best papers."

Carl Anderson said...

The "And All the days of Her Life are Forgotten" essay from the Blackwelder conference proceedings is excellent -- an aspect of Tolkien's approach that (as you note in the essay) has not received much attention.

However -- and this is something I've been meaning to ask you about, and here and now are as good a means as any :) -- I believe there is at least one post-Tolkien fantasy author who consciously sets his work (or some of it) "in the distant past of what will one day become our world, where indeed much of the point of the sub-created world is its explicit linkage to our own Primary World": Michael Scott Rohan, with specific reference to his "Winter of the World" books, set in an Ice Age past (so presumably before 10,000 BC (and thus vaguely comparable to Howard's "Hyborian Age", I suppose). Indeed, reminiscent (if more in coincidence than design) of Howard's later "American-like" settings" in some of his later Conan stories ("Beyond the Black River", for example), MSR set his first 3 "Winter of the World" books in a fictional past the North American continent, and though his thematic influences are strongly NW European (and Finnic), many of his characters are described physically in such a way to imply they are ancestors of Native Americans.

While MSR's books never rocketed to the success of the Jordans, Martins, or even Brookses of the post-Tolkienian fantasy marketplace, I think they remain an interesting blend of "conservative" and "progressive" fantasy literature trends ... a sort of lost "Euro-American", Old World/New World mythology in place of Tolkien's intended (if not necessarily precisely achieved) "mythology for England". I'm not sure how well Tolkien would have liked the idea of muddling together such themes -- it might have seemed odd to his strong sense of Place -- but it remains appealing to me, at least. :)

John D. Rateliff said...

Hi David
Yes, I did see (and much appreciate) that comment, and I agree with it to the extent that it was a real honor to be among such company. But you had also, on the same page, praised the "lucidity and insight" of "ALMOST all" of the contributors (emphasis mine).
In any case, the 2004 conference has been on my mind lately, since I've been delving back into the 1983 conference again lately. One of those great occasions where a really interesting mix of people came together and had enough time to meet and mingle and absorb a lot of each others' ideas.

Hi Carl A:
No, I've not read any of Rohan's books. Can you recommend a good one to start with? Unfortunately the local Barnes & Noble doesn't have anything of his on the shelf for browsing, and while at one time I tried to keep up with all the fantasy authors I've long since had to abandon that.
By the way, some of the Conan stories have the feel of non-European settings because they in origin weren't part of the Conan series -- as Conan got more popular, Howard took to re-writing stories to make Conan the hero. I think Black River began as a 'drums along the Mohawk' type tale, with the 'Picts' = Iroquois, but I'd have to check to make sure. I do remember de Camp confessing, with charming naivete, that he and Lin Carter had done this with several Howard tales to pad out their Lancer paperback series of 'the [more than] complete Conan', when it was quite evident which tales were (a) not genuine Howard and (b) Howard's but not genuine Conan.
Pity my 'Classics of Fantasy' wrapped up before I did the Conan column; keep meaning to get back to that, but still haven't found the time to yet.
Thanks for the head's up re. M. S. Rohan.

Carl Anderson said...

Possibly MSR's books have drifted out of print in the US; they may still be in print in the UK, but I'm not sure. However, in any case, used paperbacks might well be scored from Amazon or Abebooks or similar.

The place to start would be "The Anvil of Ice" (1986), the first book in the original Winter of the World" trilogy, which is entirely set in an fantastic Ice Age North America. It is followed by "The Forge in the Forest" (1987) and "The Hammer of the Sun" (1988). MSR wrote three more books in the same general setting, though they are neither direct prequels or sequels of the initial "trilogy", and some are set in what seems to be East or Central Asia, instead of North America.

MSR could definitely not be said to be uninfluenced by Tolkien, as although I had read his books long before, I eventually met him and struck up a friendship through discussions related to an Oxonmoot about 10 years back. However, I ahve rather lost track of hi since leaving the UK. The Web site set up by his friend and occasional writing partnet Allan Scott is about 12 years out-of-date, but is still accessible, and has some info about his sources and influences:

I think his books did better in the UK and Europe than in the US, but I always liked his post-Tolkienian take on mixing European-derived influences with non-European settings.

Yes, I suppose some of what ended up as Conan stories were perhaps started by Howard as something else. We are not as well served for Howard as the sprawling HOME series, your Hobbit books, etc. serve us for Tolkien -- though we are perhaps better served in recent years than in previous decades. It is also perhaps true that Howard began developing American-themed tales at the same time that he started to lose interest in Conan, rather than intentionally start to weave American-themed influences into his Conan tales (besides "Beyond the Black River", this might include "The Black Stranger" and the unfinished "Wolves Beyond the Border"). Still, result comes across as an "Old World/New World" fusion, and if I could get ahold of Mike Rohan these days, I would ask him if he'd had Howard in mind when starting on the "Winter of the World".